Sunday, March 10, 2013

Armchair Gardening

You are quite right if you think I've been a bit quiet lately! I will eventually tell you about my little garden here in Nottingham but at the moment it's most uninspiring and with the snow falling gently outside this morning I have absolutely no intention of venturing outside. Besides my sciatica is preventing me from gardening - my excuse! Being away from home for six months means a huge amount of mail when I return. My good friend Gordon opens the post, chucks the rubbish and scans the essentials for me but this still leaves a small mountain of other stuff including inevitably newsletters, magazines and catalogues. I pile them up with the good intention of reading but  most get dumped when I get tired of the sight of them. Whilst eating my breakfast this morning, I was thumbing through a few catalogues which were bringing back my original childhood fascination for plants.  Seeing some of the offers both fills me with scepticism and a naive desire to send off for a super saver collection of some gaudy perennials!

I love the pictures in some of these catalogues - so obviously tweeked. A tiny citrus bush, laden with lemons, an agapanthus with a dozen perfect spikes, strawberry plants dripping with ripe fruit, standard Buddleja  with  twenty or more short flowering spikes emerging as a perfect ball atop a short stem. I imagine the horticultural equivalent of a movie make-up artist creating these 'so perfect' plants, although maybe nowadays its all a geek with a computer and Photoshop. I have to admit when writing my books that I 'adjusted' a few pictures, dropping in a flower here and there, taking out a slug hole from a leaf or adding a blue sky.

And how gullible do they think we are? Do customers really fall for the inviting tag of '12 + 6 free' £13.98. S'cuse me but isn't that really £13.98 for 18? And all the others. 'Half Price Super Saver', plug plants described as 'Mighty Modules', giant bulbs and 'best value collections'. And collections are of course the nurseryman's opportunity to get rid of anything that isn't selling!

Looking specifically at one catalogue I am dissapointed but not surprised to see tender species such as Pennisetum setaceum 'Rubrum' amongst bamboos and hardy grasses and annual rudbeckias such as 'Cherry Brandy' amongst the perennials. Descriptions are always exaggerated. For example Eucomis 'flowers throughout the summer'. Well - I've yet to find the trick to get this beautiful plant to flower reliably every year, let alone continuously.  I also love their use of the word 'NEW'! Amongst this year's 'What's New' we have Apple 'Worcester Pearmain', introduced in 1874, Daphne odora 'Marginata' and a host of other plants that have been around for a while.

Well - time to do something more productive, but maybe I will just try a couple of Mighty Midget fruit trees, possibly a tri-colour standard rose and can I really resist the Half Price Goliath Lilies collection?


  1. Ian you are right as always to avoid the 'hype'.

    But sometimes they tell you the truth and miss out something else.

    Hibiscus 'Kopper King' is a moscheutos hybrid [or possilby a selection]. It is reliably winter hardy. It won't flower outside in the UK unless we get an extraordinary hot summer though!


  2. Chad - thanks for this correction - I got that one wrong! Good job someone is checking on me! I have edited this section as it was not only a blatant error but an unfair criticism.

  3. Have to say that we have trimmed down the amount of gardening catalogues we subscribe to, but a few other extras still slip though the net. Looking at some of them is like looking at a cosmetics and fashion catalogue: tweaked images and exaggerated claims.

    It's handy we know a fair amount and occasionally give in and order, with a pinch of salt...